The failure of ‘Sunshine’ and why Dawkins hates us

By , 31 August 2007 5:00 pm

Some time in spring I heard that there was this science-fiction film coming out called Sunshine. The plot was interesting, if far-fetched; let me quote: “In the not-too-distant future, the sun is about to smoke out. A crew is sent to re-ignite it with a nuclear bomb; when they fail, a new team sets out to finish the job. But they find that flying to the least hospitable place in the solar system and staying sane and alive is no simple matter.”

The director had a good track record, what I could pick up of early reviews sounded very promising (it got over 70 odd percent on the indispensable ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ scale and the British press mostly gave it four out of five stars). Yet somehow (rather like the real sunshine this year) it never materialised in Swansea. Well, maybe it did but it must have come and gone very quickly because until yesterday, I was still waiting for it. However, in the supermarket yesterday evening, I saw that it had already come out on DVD. I checked up on Wikipedia (careful to avoid plot spoilers), and found out that it really hadn’t done very well and certainly can’t have recouped the cost of the special effects. Sad. Okay, it didn’t have alien battle fleets by all accounts, but it sounded pretty worthwhile.

Now I find the demise of Sunshine very significant. It is yet another indicator that actually we do not find science very interesting. We pay lip service to science: we give scientists awards, we let them have their breakthroughs on the news (albeit mostly slotted in at the end) and we say, ‘Isn’t science wonderful?’ Yet, on the whole, increasinglywe find science uninteresting. In my own field of geology there are only a handful of areas that will arouse general interest: dinosaurs, earthquake or volcano prevention, meteorite impact, finding more oil, and that’s about it. If you don’t believe me take a look at the science section in the average bookshop and compare it in size to the sections devoted to history, politics, travel and tourism, and even pets, and you will see how low the interest in straight science really is. (Interestingly enough, many of the science books that do sell are frankly over-the-top in their chatty popularity.)

There is, I think, an extraordinary paradox here. The scientific method has been enormously successful and for, all its problems, delivered stunning results. (The fact that this blog can be read worldwide not the least of them.) Yet increasingly, it has failed to grasp the heart and the imagination. We find almost anything, including pseudoscience, more interesting than science itself. Sometime I may go into why I think this is, but here, I simply want to note the fact that most people find science, even scary science like the Sun dying, desperately unexciting.

And here I bring in Professor Richard Dawkins, with his well established loathing of faith. The cause of his extraordinary animosity to the faith community has often been speculated on. (I prefer the view that as an infant he was dropped on the way to the font.) But I feel sure that one thing that is driving him is the knowledge that, for all its vast achievements, science is unloved. It is like some distinguished uncle in a family: respected, honoured but not liked; someone we prefer not to spend time with. As a result, Dawkins lashes out at those he thinks are responsible and Christianity gets it. Well, isn’t that simple, and if the good professor knew a little more history, he would know that Christianity provided both the seedbed and the nutrients for the blooming of science in the 17th and 18th centuries. If he is indeed driven by a fear that a dark and superstitious pre-science era is returning, I, and most other scientists who are Christians, share his concern. We just think that in trying to blast the culprits, he has woefully misaimed.


On a separate note, for those wanting to know news about The Infinite Day, the manuscript has been well-received at Tyndale and I have been allocated someone who, is by all accounts, an excellent editor. Very soon, I ought to be able to give you a publication date.

Have a good week.

2 Responses to “The failure of ‘Sunshine’ and why Dawkins hates us”

  1. Benjamin says:

    Nice read. Am looking forward to the book!

    May I make a suggestion? All comments posted only have the time they were posted and not the date – this is a setting which can be changed in your blog fairly easily. I recently changed mine – goodness knows why the default option is to only show the time of the comment…

  2. Chris says:

    Thanks and thanks.

    I have modified the settings as you suggested


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